On Sunday the Turkish nation commemorated the 15th year since a devastating earthquake hit the densely populated and industrial Marmara region killing 17,000 people, wounding several times more people and causing massive damage and losses in the cities of Istanbul, Yalova, Sakarya and Kocaeli.
It was a time when Turks were deeply shocked and traumatized, when the then-coalition government of Bülent Ecevit was first highly ineffective and then helpless, and a period when the Turkish nation rose to the occasion, rushing to help the stricken areas with great dedication and self-sacrifice.
At that time, people rushed to the region with their own relief materials and did a wonderful job. Volunteers flocked to the devastated areas and helped relief efforts. Municipalities sent their mobile kitchens and bakeries.
Young doctors, nameless heroes, performed miracles by braving the impossible conditions. A young surgeon had to endure several hours under a collapsed building treating a young girl stuck under the rubble until the building collapsed over him, trapping him for several days. That young doctor continued to treat the wounded girl and was later rescued. His name is Dr. Muhammet Özgehan. There were several such heroes who we have to salute on the occasion of the commemoration of this disaster.
The trauma of the quake continued to hurt the nation for years. Now it seems to be easing and the wounds have been treated.
The Turkish nation displayed a similar spirit of solidarity and self-sacrifice during the recent coal mine disaster in Soma where 301 miners lost their lives and hundreds more were wounded.
This is a plus for our nation. Yet we also have to remember that the worst of everything happens to us and, unfortunately, our losses and casualties are the highest according to world standards.
The killer quake of 1999 caused so much devastation and human loss not only because a densely populated industrial region was hit, but because proper architectural codes had been ubiquitously violated. It simply meant criminal negligence, not only on the part of builders, but also on the part of public officials.
Turkey toughened its building codes, introduced strict measures for violators and tried to enforce the existing rules in a more effective manner, but we clearly see there are still massive problems as experts tell us another devastating quake is likely to hit the region and that it is only a matter of time. You see the high-rises across the Istanbul skyline, which were all built since the quake and you shudder to think what could happen. Officials are leveling damaged or suspicious constructions and strengthening buildings but they are reportedly way behind schedule.
But the recent Soma mine disaster was an eye opener for all of us - showing a disregard for rules and regulations, how criminal negligence and carelessness have prevailed in modern times and how many work places are still being run with such a mentality.
That is why our casualties are high and we have to endure such traumas. The Turkish nation is strong and solid. It has proven it still has that fire of unity and solidarity; it is ready for self-sacrifice and ready more than ever for charity. However, these supreme values should not be tested by irresponsible people.
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